Updated: Jul 14
Until the early 80's when it came to trauma, children were believed to be resilient and naturally bounce back and even "get over" trauma. This view continues to predominate in our world view.
What we have been learning as a result of considerable research in particular the field of neuroscience, which is the study of the brain, is that children do not recover from trauma, in time, in this way. This fact alone may be the real reason there is such a mental health crisis at the moment in our society.
The reason for this article is to shine the light on the effects of trauma on children and the impact that this has on their young and subsequent adult lives. It is also an opportunity to share that there is hope and that real healing can happen.
The first time I saw the brain scan of a child in a Romanian orphanage who had experienced severe emotional neglect, despite his physical needs being met compared to the brain scan of a child who had received love, emotional connection and touch; shocked me to the core. The difference between these two brains was so apparent with big dark areas of empty space in the Romanian orphan's frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as memory, emotions, impulse control, problem-solving, social interaction, and motor function.
What we were also discovering was that unless love, nurture and touch were introduced at an early stage this damage would be long term, maybe even permanent. Children would not get over the trauma but instead it would become hard-wired into their brain.
Although most children have not been raised with the extreme severity of the Romanian orphans, it is not unusual for children to have been raised with little emotional nurture, touch and emotional brain regulation. We only have to go back to the '50s & '60s when baby boomers of my generation were being raised by parents who were told to place their children in separate rooms at night and to leave them to cry it out till they fell asleep with exhaustion, by well-meaning but ignorant professionals, instead of trusting their intuition. I have spoken to many mothers who felt powerless to give their babies loving touch and affection for fear of spoiling them.
I was one of the lucky ones in that regard. My mother grew up in what our society would call a "primitive culture" in a remote Cypriot village isolated from modern society. Here it was instinctive and natural to have a close attachment to their babies so when in London in the '60s, where she had emigrated, she was told by her health visitor that she was spoiling me, her baby with "too much love and affection" my mother followed her very strong natural instincts and ignored her.
Did I grow up unscathed from trauma? Sadly not, I had a great deal of trauma growing up which included the tragic death of my younger sister when I was five years old and had to deal with the devastating effects this had on me and my entire family. I grew up with intense anxiety, depression and low self-worth. These manifested in numerous health conditions including chronic fatigue and thyroid autoimmune dysfunction. All these traumas remained with me hard-wired into my own brain.
What is not fully recognised is that the majority of children have experienced some form of childhood trauma in one way or another. It may be from over punitive parenting, emotionally neglectful parenting or caregiving, bullying at school, parents fighting, separation, divorce, changing homes or schools, medical interventions etc. They may from our adults' perspective be minor events but for an individual child catastrophic. What seems to matters is the emotional response of that individual child as to whether it gets hard-wired into the "neural pathways" of his or her brain.
It was when I began working with people in my holistic therapy practice, specialising in stress, anxiety, depression and low self-worth that I discovered almost everyone I saw with these issues had a history of trauma, especially of early trauma. These early traumas lay at the very root of their issues.
A few years ago I saw a woman in her late 50's who I will call "Louisa" to retain her privacy. She was suffering from severe alcohol addiction since she was in her late teens and had even sought to take her own life in very dramatic ways several times. When I first saw Louisa she was a shell of herself. She'd had over 15 years of counselling, with many different counsellors. She felt that constantly talking about the problem had none nothing more than re-traumatise her. She was no further forward and no more at peace with herself. Her addiction continued.
I met Louisa at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre, she was frail, thin and gaunt. Her eye's looked absent as though she was barely here at all. I felt so much compassion for this beautiful soul in this wracked body.
Louisa and I began to work together, helping her to release some of her anxiety and we were making some progress. She asked to work more intensely with me as she felt she had made more progress in her 3 sessions than she had in 15 years of counselling. I knew there was much more that underlined her anxiety, so when I felt we had built up a good rapport and she felt a sense of trust, I asked her "when you need to drink how old do you feel?".
I knew that I was talking to that deep part of herself, her subconscious mind whose language is all about feeling and sensing. She replied immediately, telling me she felt 5 years old and said that she could see herself in an empty house all alone. She was terrified. The image was so real for her it was as though she was right back there again.
In order to keep Louisa safe I guided her away from this memory, helped her to release all the emotions of terror and fear with EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and the Heartstream Process, gently and calmly so Louisa could feel completely safe again. When her emotional intensity was very low we travelled back in time with the Matrix Reimprinting Technique (an inner child healing technique) so she could support and help her younger self at that age.
Safety and connection were what this little five-year-old was craving so Louisa was able to give her love, nurturing and touch to help give what her younger self was needing. There was great healing at the moment which was so beautifully touching. Louisa's body completely relaxed at that moment and she said that she felt a huge weight lift from her body. She said she felt more peaceful than in her whole life.
The next time I saw Louisa she appeared brighter: her eyes appeared alive and she talked about things that she could be passionate about now. We continued our work together over the coming few months releasing and healing more of her childhood and subsequent traumas until she healed.
By the end of our few short months together she no longer craved alcohol, she no longer needed to numb out the pain of her childhood neglect. Not only that but she felt a new possibility for life and what lay ahead of her now. She felt sad about what she had missed in all these years but was so grateful that she had found what she had been looking for and what she knew in her heart was that she could completely heal.
Most of my client's that come to see me with stress, anxiety, depression, low self-worth or addictions are often surprised when they discover that the root cause of their issues is not their current stress etc but goes way back to earlier negative experiences or traumas (big and small). Things we would consider minor incidents can be devastating to a child and leave them with life long scars which show up as anxiety, fears, depression and addictions in their adult lives.
These events remain in the hard drive of our brain for our entire life, sitting in our subconscious mind waiting to be re-triggered. My clients regardless of age will remember these events often decades later with the same vivid intensity as they did at the time they occurred. They will often say "the image is so strong I can see so many details even down to what I was wearing at that time".
It seems our brain holds onto the memory and the intense emotions that occurred at that time become the glue that holds it in place. When the glue is taken away the memory no longer has the same charge and it then starts to fade, sometimes it can be hard to find.
Our conscious mind still knows that it happened but the pictures, sounds, feelings all vanish into thin air. At first glance it seems and sounds miraculous but once we understand the way our brains work it is very ordinary. What is miraculous is the incredible capacity for our mind to heal with the right tools.
One of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of my work is that a client doesn't necessarily have to share all the details of the event with me for a resolution to occur. By connecting the emotion to the "event" and allowing the body to feel the emotion, the emotional glue can be released, without re-traumatising my client and having them talk about it. Often, once the emotion is released and it is no longer triggering, the client feels comfortable and at ease at recounting what happened to them, much like talking about an old movie they saw a long time ago.
One of the main advantages of this new approach is allowing the client to maintain their privacy if they would prefer not to share the details of their past traumas. Trauma often comes with a great deal of shame, with fear of exposure and external judgement, especially in areas of sexual abuse.
So if the root of so much of our anxieties, lies in early childhood experiences then are we not at best just touching the surface with cognitive and regular talk therapy and if there is really no strategy for true healing could we even be causing more harm than good by "talking about it"?
One of the most common frustrations clients have when I first see them is constantly having had to talk about their issues over and over without resolution. They often arrive feeling defeated and hopeless.
The new paradigm of healing with EFT Tapping, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and other somatic approaches means we have a new way to eliminate our anxieties and traumatic experiences quickly and painlessly. We are then able to live our lives with greater joy and passion and at the same time grow in strength and resilience to face challenges from the place of the adult instead of the wounded child.
My work and experience continue to grow and each client brings new learnings for me in helping me understand stress, anxiety, trauma and depression. Choosing to keep up to date with the latest research in this growing dynamic field, I am able to offer my clients greater opportunities for healing.
I envision that one day, that is very possible to live in a world where parents are educated about the importance of nurture, love and touch in child development. When traumas do occur, EFT Tapping and similar modalities can be easily used by parents at home; that children can learn it for themselves to help them regulate their own emotional responses. Practitioners in this field can be called upon to support parents in releasing traumas as they occur or shortly thereafter and we can help our children to grow into healthy, productive, compassionate and loving adults and our world can truly heal.
LLB (Hons), Holistic Therapist, Cert. and Accredited EFT and Matrix Reimprinting Practitioner, Holistic Coach and Meditation Instructor at Heartstream Wellness. Richmond, Nelson, NZ.
I specialise in stress, anxiety, trauma, addictions and negative emotions. I choose to support those looking for true personal transformation.
My vision is to "heal and transform the planet one person at a time".
For more information on EFT tapping and the science of tapping go to;- https://petastapleton.com/the-science-behind-tapping
Two excellent books in this field are:-
"What Every Parent Needs to Know - The incredible Effects of Love Nurture and Play on Your Child's Development" by Margot Sunderland.
"Why Love Matters - How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain" by Sue Gerhardt